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Oscar-winning ‘Chariots of Fire’ composer dies

Vangelis, the Greek composer whose rousing electronic theme music for the 1981 Oscar-winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’ became one of the most beloved film scores, has died at the age of 79.

The law firm representing the composer said he died on Tuesday evening, without giving a cause of death.

In a post on Twitter, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Vangelis “a pioneer in electronic sound”.

“He began his long journey on the Chariots of Fire. From there he will always send us his notes,” Mitsotakis wrote.

“Ad astra, Vangelis” – Latin for “to the stars” – NASA tweeted, claiming that Vangelis had contributed to its explorations of Jupiter.

Born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in 1943, the young Vangelis had an early interest in music and experimented with the sounds produced by banging pots and pans or attaching nails, glasses and other objects to the piano strings of his parents.

He absorbed the tones of Greek folksongs and Orthodox Christian choral music, but he had no formal musical training, which he later said helped save his sense of creativity.

After beginnings in local rock bands, Vangelis left for Paris at the age of 25, joining an exodus of young artists following the 1967 coup that installed a military junta in Greece.

Away from home, he was drawn to the then-new field of electronic synthesizers which allowed him to create the lush melodic colors that have become his trademark.

Despite success in the European “prog rock” scene of the early 1970s with Aphrodite’s Child, a band he formed with fellow Greek musician Demis Roussos, Vangelis was not comfortable with the expectations of a commercial artist and has largely retired to the recording studio he established. for himself in London.

It was there that he wrote the score for “Chariots of Fire”, the story of the triumph of a group of British runners at the 1924 Olympics.

Unapologetically uncontemporary, its heart-pounding synthesizer beats and soaring melody made the slow-motion opening sequence of a group of athletes running along a beach a model for how cinema portrays sport.

Vangelis once said the score, which won him an Oscar and topped the charts for weeks, was in part a tribute to his father, who was an avid amateur runner. But he was also mildly dismissive of the enormous popularity he enjoyed.

“It’s just another piece of music,” he told an interviewer.

The success of “Chariots of Fire” eclipsed his other scores, but he wrote the music for several major films including “Missing,” directed by fellow countryman Costa-Gavras, and Ridley Scott’s futuristic thriller “Blade Runner.”

He was a prolific composer for many decades, his work ranging from publicity and film scores to elaborate symphonic-style compositions and “Jon and Vangelis”, his duet with Jon Anderson, lead singer of the progressive rock band Yes .

But he remained wary of commercial success, once telling an interviewer that he never saw music as mere entertainment.